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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5773

Parashat Hashavua: The Reward for a Mitzva Is Only a Mitzva

Harav Yosef Carmel

Last week we dealt with the question of the pay for a dayan and his disqualification if he receives pay for ruling on a specific case. We will continue the basic discussion from a slightly different vantage point, which is very relevant and timely.

We mentioned that even though a dayan may not demand money for the action of sitting in judgment itself, he can receive compensation for the losses he sustained from being away from his normal activities while involved in judgment. The classic case is when he is employed in a different profession and must take off time from it to adjudicate, in which case he is compensated for lost revenue.

The Chatam Sofer (Shut V, Choshen Mishpat 9:3) explains the background and rationale of these halachot. He claims that one should spend as much time as possible studying Torah, only working the minimal amount required to attain basic necessities. Thus, unless his circumstances dictate otherwise, he should spend the vast majority of his time learning Torah. He should avoid luxuries and focus on spirituality. In any case, if someone comes to a person during his learning time, needing to be taught or judged, the learner is required to put aside his own learning and teach or rule for free. However, when that comes up at a time that he has set aside for his livelihood, his livelihood comes first, in which case, the one in need must find a replacement at work or reimburse the lost income.

We learn three principles from this Chatam Sofer, the rabbi who fought against reformists and coined the phrase: “Chadash (new practices) are forbidden by the Torah.” Certainly his standard for a good Jew is that he himself works to support his wife and family, as is written in our ketubot.

1. All Jews are supposed to set aside fixed time for Torah study. His Torah learning and his service of Hashem should be his primary concern, while the pursuit of his livelihood should be secondary. This applies even to those who do not categorize themselves as “his Torah is his profession.”

2. The basic obligation of every Jewish man is to support his wife and the members of his household. This even comes before his Torah study and the worrying about his and other’s spiritual needs. Of course, the community has to see to it that there are frameworks where Torah leadership is developed for the needs of all. However, this is for an elite cadre of people and not a norm of society.

3. “Spiritual services” are to be provided free of charge wherever possible. One should try to make a clear division between doing mitzvot and making a living. Ideally the community should create a fund to enable rabbis, dayanim, etc. to set aside time to provide for the Torah needs of the community, so that they are not paid per case. This is the responsibility of each community (Shulchan Aruch, CM 9:3).

If people are careful about these guidelines, there will be an increase in Torah study and performance of mitzvot, along with increased respect and appreciation for the Torah and those who learn it. This will raise the spiritual level of the broader public and usher in the days of liberation and consolation.

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